AN INDEPENDENT PROGRAM OF TOWER HILL BOTANIC GARDEN
Trees Benefit People
Health & Wellness
Where We Long To Dwell By Emily Perry, 2017
Henry David Thoreau so famously took to the woods of Concord to “live deliberately…to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” An American naturalist, poet, and philosopher, Thoreau was an influential advocate for the protection of wild places. His call to the forest grew from an uneasy feeling of emptiness and the yearning for a more meaningful life. Today, this may be easy to relate to as we are constantly presented with overwhelming distractions that distance us from reality, so often resigning to our phones, our televisions, or our computers. This choice to “live” within a screen causes everything to lose its true infusion of life; it’s as though we’re holding everything at a distance. Thoreau decried that to be fully present with others and ourselves, we must turn our gaze to nature. By cultivating and loving the world around him, Thoreau developed his mind, body, and morality. Out of his developing ecological consciousness came the revolutionary claim that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” The sanctuary that Thoreau escaped to in the early to mid-19th century may seem completely out of reach to some of us today. According to the UN, over half of the world’s population lives in urban areas and over 81% of Americans live in urban centers. It is increasingly evident how vital immersion in nature is to our wellbeing, and as residents of Worcester, our urban forest can provide this place of retreat.
The U.S. Forest Service recognizes urban forests as dynamic ecosystems that provide the green infrastructure so vital to our communities. According to the USDA, healthy trees translate to healthy people, but these natural assets are often forgotten in “society’s balance sheet.” Understanding the ecosystem services that trees provide allows us all to better appreciate their fundamental worth and importance in our communities. It has been proven time and time again that forests make us healthier, happier people. Just a few minutes walking through the shaded paths provided by a green canopy can center us and foster an inexplicable feeling of wholeness. The trees that make up Worcester’s urban forest are more important than ever — they line the streets we drive every day, the sidewalks we stroll down, and the parks we explore. Since 2008, tens of thousands of trees that make up the city’s urban forest have been lost to the Asian Longhorn Beetle, a destructive, invasive insect that destroys hardwoods from the inside-out. While many trees have been replanted since the dire outbreak, we must continue to develop the canopy and work to assure that trees are included in major infrastructure decisions. Protecting and planting trees is vital to our wellbeing, and there are real and impactful benefits trees provide that positively affect human health and quality of life that are worth exploring:
Trees serve to filter the air, dramatically reducing asthma rates and the occurrence of other respiratory diseases. Markedly, researchers from Columbia University found childhood asthma rates were highest in parts of the city where tree density was lowest.
According to a study conducted by the Arbor Day Foundation, exercising in natural spaces fosters feelings of rejuvenation, positivity, increased energy and clear-headedness while also resulting in declines in tension, irritability, and depression. Thus, the solace of nature not only brings peace to our lives, but healing to our bodies.
Those who visit green spaces report a decrease in feelings of anxiety and sadness. As such, green landscapes positively shape our mental wellbeing.
A research-based analysis of the psychological role that nature plays reveals that children diagnosed with A.D.D. will function better after activities in natural settings, and the more “natural” the place of play, the less severe the attention deficit symptoms.
Simply living in a green space makes residents three times as likely to be physically active and 40% less likely to be overweight or obese than residents living in less natural settings.
In an article published in Science, it was observed that patients recovering from surgery in hospital rooms with views of a natural scene recovered faster and did not need as many strong doses of pain medication than those patients whose windows faced an urban setting. Truly, nature has incredible restorative properties, both for our mental and physical health.
In Walden, Thoreau poses a simple and sincere question: “What do we want most to dwell near to?” He, himself, continually longs to be “nearer to the vitals of the globe” and to live deep within the wildness of nature. Reflecting upon Thoreau’s question, we can go further and ask ourselves where and how we want to spend our lives. Considering just a few of the many benefits trees have, it is obvious that our quality of life and mental health are correlated with the presence and persistence of green spaces in which we walk, run, and play. This, then, is what we must dwell near to: nature, greenness, wildness. The forest’s value to us, our families, and our neighbors truly “roots” the it in our hearts and minds as an integral element of Worcester. Safeguarding trees translates to safeguarding our own wellbeing and happiness, and as such, a link must be forged between the two. To nourish our mind, body, and spirit, the urban forest must persist and thrive. Moving forward, the Worcester Tree Initiative hopes to be stewards of change by growing the forest and educating the community members of Worcester. Together, we can help our urban forest endure and flourish for future generations and beyond.
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